A photograph of a whistle, to support an article about whistleblowing investigations.

Independent whistleblowing investigation needed

A committee of MPs has said that a whistleblowing investigation is sorely needed to prevent 12,000 avoidable hospital deaths every year, but it must be independent.

The introduction of a statutorily independent Health Service Safety Investigations Body (HSSIB) to investigate cases of compromised patient safety was supported by a joint Lords and Commons committee.

However, these plans have been criticised by MPs over “conflict of interest” concerns regarding letting NHS hospitals investigate themselves. They said that allowing the HSSIB to accredit NHS accredit NHS trusts and foundation trusts run their run their own internal investigations was a ‘step too far’.

The committee’s chair, and backbench Conservative MP Sir Bernard Jenkin said; “The committee considers this idea to be wholly misconceived,”

“It represents too great a conflict of interest for the accredited trusts, compromises HSSIB’s independence from the system it is investigating and would risk damaging confidence in the ‘safe space’ concept itself.

“To win the confidence of patients, healthcare practitioners and other bodies with responsibility for patient safety, HSSIB had to be, and be seen to be, independent of existing healthcare structures, including the Department of Health and Social Care.”

The committee also said that proposals did not go far enough to protect and investigate concerns from whistleblowers in the private sector, and that this must also be addressed.

Dr Robert Harwood, chair of the British Medical Association’s consultants committee welcomed the issues flagged by MPs.

“When mistakes occur in the medical environment, the results can be tragic,” he said. “However, if we as doctors, and the health service as a whole, are to learn from such mistakes and stop them happening again, staff must feel able to report and reflect openly.

“We do have concerns with some parts of the draft bill,” he added. “Namely, we believe that private healthcare should be held to the same high standards as NHS services and included within the remit of the HSSIB.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We want to make the NHS the safest healthcare system in the world and welcome the committee’s recognition of our efforts to do this through this landmark draft bill.

“We will now consider the recommendations carefully before responding in the autumn.”

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